tv Co- Chairmen of the Commission on CSPAN September 8, 2013 2:05am-3:11am EDT
academic in nature. i think they have missed the very human side of him. ,e was deeply emotional passionate, a romantic figure. he had two wives. his first love died, he fell in love with a woman and married a second time. --sionate love level letters to each of these women. this was a real, living and breathing human being. we have not seen that about woodrow wilson. >> it releases next week. 8:00more sunday night at on c-span's "q&a." >> next, behind-the-scenes with the cochairs of the commission on the presidential debate. president bill clinton's press said terry, republican national committee chair during the
ronald reagan and ms. fishing. they talk about the future of the debate format, how the united it differs from other countries, and reaching out to younger voters. from california, this is one hour and 15 minutes. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2013] [captioning performed by national captioning institute] >> good evening and welcome to the meeting of the commonwealth club of california. the place for you are in the know. i am dr. mary marcy. i am the president, a member of the commonwealth board of governors and the moderator for today's program. you can find us online or download iphone and android apps, as well as podcasts of
past programs. today, it is my pleasure to introduce a very interesting and relevant program. the nonpartisan, non--- has sponsored and to -- has sponsored the debate since 1987. planning is now underway for 2016. even though we think of these debates as a regular part of the american political scene, few people understand the history or appreciate it.
a few facts might provide perspective. u.s. presidential debates are every four years, one of the most watched television programs in the united states, usually behind only the super bowl and indeed one of the most watched programs in the world. usually there are around 70 million viewers for each of the debates. while it is true the debates have been with us since the lincoln-duncan debates, or at least since the infamous nixon- kennedy debate, in fact the debates in their present format
or even the assumption that bates would always be held is a fairly recent and refreshingly nonpartisan event. the commission on presidential debates celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. one of its founders joins us today. finally, the debates are an inspiration to emerging democracies around the world. the commission works with developing democracies. we will talk about all of these things. about upcoming debates and we
might hear a few stories from our distinguished guests. it is my distinct honor to introduce mike mccurry and frank. they are seasoned veterans of the clinical scene. mike is totally most familiar to us from his time serving as press secretary. in addition to that very public role, he served in a range of positions since 1984. in addition to working with the u.s. department of state and such notable and significant leaders, a graduate of princeton university and a georgetown university.
he provides counsel on communication strategies and management to corporate and nonprofit clients. frank is also an old washington hand. his most visible roles have included serving chairman of the political party. he was present at the creation of the commission on presidential debates, founding this effort with the political with the chairman. he is a graduate of the university of nevada reno. he is current president and ceo
of the american gaming association. i will get it started and let you take it from there. gentlemen, you clearly do not see eye to eye on most political issues and you lead our to bleep the most successful nonpartisan effort in the nation, if not the world on the commission for presidential debates. tell us a little bit about how that happened. how these fundamentally opposed
visions of the future came together. >> i will start since i was there at the birth. as you pointed out, most people do not realize that we went 16 years from the nixon-kennedy debate to the next presidential debate. there was no way and in johnson would've allowed him to get on stage. after richard nixon's experience in 1960 debates with kennedy, he also was not interested in debates. it wasn't until jerry ford was appointed president and was running against jimmy carter that there was debates. it started and was handled by the league of women voters. four years later, most people do not realize i was at the first
debate in baltimore. it was ronald reagan and john anderson, a congressman from illinois. jimmy carter refused to participate. anderson was invited because the league of women voters said you had to be 15% in the polls. he was at 16%. jimmy carter said he would not debate. by the time the second debate came around, carter and reagan had their only debate. that's really began the takeoff point of the debates. then in 1984, there was a great deal of controversy with the media. the candidates were given the right to veto the choice of moderators. in those days, they normally had a moderator and maybe three or four reporters who asked the
questions. the two candidates detailed over 90 reporters. following that, there were two independent studies done. one was at the institute of politics. the other was at the center for strategic studies in washington. both of those committees were studying not just the debate process, but how we elect our presidents. both of them independently came
think what is behind that history is really important. there were two national party chairs. i predecessor is the cochair of the commission. he basically said, it is in the interest of the american people for us to set aside our partisan difference as democratic chair and republican chair in order to establish any kind of commission that will guarantee the american people get a look at the major candidates for president, whoever they may be and not favor one party or the other party. it is face to face encounters. that was probably a bipartisan act, but it was in fact, a nonpartisan act.
something that is so rare in the culture of our politics now. i can't imagine getting together on anything these days. i think savoring that moment of history in which people did something right for the interest of the whole country is something we celebrate. the result of that is these debates have become more or less institutionalized. as frank said, it was not a given that they would debate.
i think now, over time, i but he had a conflict. >> i have been on both sides of this. i know a little bit of the mischief that goes into this. but now, in 2012, very quickly agreed to all of the debates that we have planned and proposed and said, you pick the dates and the format and we will show up. i think that is an extraordinary achievement. it goes to frank and his counterpart. >> it sounds trite, but this is true. we said 25 years ago that i
would never wear an rnc hat. he would never wear a dnc hat. we would always wear usa hats. we kept that pledge, i think, and that is why we are still here. >> i would like to follow up a little bit on the usa hats part. an area that i don't think everyone is aware the commission is involved in and that is what the commission does in off years. they are very visible during the years of presidential election area there is a tremendous amount of work that goes on in using the debates to reach out to other countries when it is a nonpresidential year. can you talk about that?
>> that to me just describe a great occasion we had last week. people say, your only busy once every four years so what you do the rest of the time? we have a very committed staff and are in partnership with one of the organizations that helps promote a mocker see around the world. there is a counterpart group on the republican side that has helped us from time to time as well. last week, in partnership with the institute, we gathered together all of the people who are just like me and frank who are debate to mission is from 19 different countries. >> argentina, afghanistan, colombia, dina, nigeria, paraguay, trinidad, tunisia -- not a bad. >> they are all countries which have now institutionalized some form of debates for their leadership. now their situations are much different. sometimes they do their work at gunpoint. and whether or not they will air what ever debates they have, it is extraordinary work and everybody came together to share
their best practices. we actually learned some new things about techniques and formats from some of our partners around the world who participate in this. so the work of this commission now has gone global and we work with others who were in democratic societies who are trying to promote the idea that those who seek national leadership positions ought to get together to have civil discourse and dialogue and confront each other on issues that are important. >> it has gotten to the point that the eu will actually have residential debates. i will be going over to europe in late september, meeting with all of the parties who will be involved in setting up the process. >> you recall in elections in the u.k. they had their first live televised debate. some of our staff went over to help with the technical aspects of this because in addition to the fact of getting things together, and there is enormous technical difficulties that go into putting these debates on. many older folks will remember that great debate where there was 17 minutes were gerald ford and jimmy carter -- the whole lights went out and everything went dark and they didn't have any clue what to do. >> pasted that for 17 minutes and didn't say a word to each other. >> we have guaranteed that will never happen again. >> there is a certain symmetry in the worries of national discourse, which is serving as an international model. it must be an enormous challenge to bring these candidates together and ensure there is a format that is fair and nonpartisan. we talk about the enormous television audience. how do the candidates attempt to influence the format? >> that world has changed. when we started, we sit down with the campaign managers and it was called the debate over the debate. we would get in constant arguments back and forth. the candidates started to sign documents. at one time, they came and said, you will sign this document and you'll get the moderators to sign the document.
i told him very politely what they could do with the document. >> it wasn't very polite. >> that was the last time that we had contact. we choose the sites. we choose the dates. we choose the formats and we made major changes in the formats this last time around and we choose the moderators without any input whatsoever from the candidates. some of the media still to this day say that the parties are running the debates. we have no contact or nothing to do with the political parties. we are private entities. we don't get any money from the federal government. we have reached that point. it was two steps forward, one back. but as mike said, both candidates, not a word. we will make some changes. for example, we have always believed the best way to do the debates is that a table. we have done a great deal of studies. we believe the nature and tenure of discourse changes when people are seated. podiums tend to be walls. four years ago, and two years ago, the candidates said they would like to do one debate with the podiums.
we will allow them to have input around the margins, but not touch the tenure and real strength of the debate process. >> barack obama may have preferred -- >> he wasn't there. >> the important point here -- i have worked in national campaigns and with president clinton when he ran for reelection in 1996 and a kerry in 2004. the campaigns want to tightly control everything about every single aspect of whatever public appearance the candidate is going to undertake. we basically take a position of if we build it, you have to come. we will accommodate you up to some point. -- to accommodate your interests, we will try to work with you. but the fundamental thing is to make sure we get something there that gives us that glimmer of insight, that moment where we see something about the character or quality of the candidate that really helps us make a decision. a lot of people are obviously in a polarized position and know who they are going to vote for. but you get insights. control everything about every you get something that triggers a moment where you say, i can see with that person would be like in the oval office. that is what we want. we want the maximum value from an educational point of view. that is what we do. we are open to how to do it that her. the evolution of these debates and change in the formats, we are constantly looking for ways to improve it. we are heavily impacted by all of the things that happen in technology and ways in which people interact with these debates through social media, the internet, things that have changed technologically. >> we have a decision. as a commission, we're are going
to be dealing with on election day, 40% of the american people are devoted. 42% of the american people have already voted on the election day. we have to face the challenge, do we move the debates back? rather than running them up to a couple weeks before the election? there are changes in technology we have to be sensitive to to make sure we are reaching enough people. my kids do not have home phones. they have cell phones. they don't watch the nightly news. it is a whole bunch of ads for old people. there is a two bathtub at. i am telling you. they get on the computer. and mike has taken the lead on us with this. >> we are here in the heart of san francisco were high technology is an important part of the economy of this region. but how we use these debates to engage and interact that expects because of the in dash online experience to be interactive is
a challenge. the format of these debates, we have all seen them. we have the eagle behind. it has become one of those institutionalized moments in our democracy like the state of the union or the other big moments that we have, but we have to hit the refresh button to make sure we are using technology and reaching younger audience that prefers a young demographic eight team-29 that we want to engage. that is the challenge we are actively working on now. really trying to figure out how we will do a better job of the filling our obligation and our mission. >> they also have a few suggestions for you. >> not a surprise. i can imagine you meet anyone that doesn't have a few suggestions. one of the thoughts it is some concern that the debates are so visual that the
commentary on them becomes about body language or whether the candidate seem to have slept well the night before. whether they are looking at their watch. one of the questions is can we go back to having one debate the radio, or radio and podcast. >> what we have tried to do is we always there in mind that we are not electing the best debater. that is not the purpose. that is why using a number of different or mets were you could see the candidates present their case. there is no question that if you see somebody, let's face it. those people who heard nixon- kennedy on the radio all said nixon one. those people who saw on television said kennedy one
because he came out with a great tan and nixon look like he hadn't shaved in three weeks. that is always a part of it. i think the visual is very important. there is one thing i have learned having done 26 of these things. the american people want to like their president. i have a theory and i have talked to mike about this. the television lens is very interesting. some people can go right through that lens like that are. you have people like ronald reagan and bill clinton, president obama. other candidates hit the lens and they bounce off. they cannot get through for some reason. they have trouble communicating. if you are going to be a leader,
a lot of people listen on radio or listening and streaming, whatever they may do. i think that is the best way for people to make up their mind and their determination as to whether or not they can see that person being in the oval office, being a leader, standing up to other leaders around the world, a lot of people listen on radio whatever it may be. i hear the argument. whatever it may be.
there may be some credibility, but i still think the way we do it is best. >> one of the things we have learned from research is people here commentary and they hear all the analysis. their positions begin to be affected by what they hear in the commentary after the debate. there are some studies that indicate if you put people in the room and asked them to watch and listen to the debate and then record their opinions, it
is much different than what ever they thought coming out of it. i thought about that a lot. it is practically impossible to say that people do not tweet. just listen to these candidates. don't start arguing and expressing your own opinion until you've actually heard with these candidates have to say. that is practically impossible and would probably be undemocratic. we want a vibrant debate. how do we get people to focus and listen and not just be consumed with the visual takes that are distracting. we all kind of know what those references are historically. how do we inc. through what these candidates are actually talking about what are they actually going to do once they are elected? that is what the debate ought to be about. how do you take these experiences as they come together? there should be a season of conversation. these debates are not isolated one time events. it begins a conversation that ought to continue as you move through the month of october and into the election period.
a great example of this that is urgent right now is we had no discussion of global climate change in these debates. and what is the big topic today? global climate change. how do you get the substance of these debates to really help people informed and think about the choices we have to make as a country. that is the ongoing process and the work we have to do. >> there are several questions. i had the opportunity to attend a denver debate last year. one of the things that struck me was the difference between what happened in the debate hall. could you describe what that looks like today and what it
the minute it was over, jim turned up the tv and looked at us and you could've heard a pin drop in that room. he said, we want now go out and tell the media we won. we had to go out and spin the media. now, it is ridiculous. it is what we call spin alley. each side has maybe 20 spokespeople. governors and senators and members of congress. they have people holding a sign up with their name on it so the media can see them in the crowd of people afterward. it has gotten to the point of being ridiculous. it is something i want to spend some time on between now and the 2016 debates. m is 100% right. what we did for a few years and we don't anymore, we used to have debate hardee's all over the united states sponsored by the commission. people would gather in libraries and there'd be a moderator that they would choose. the minute the debate was over, they would turn off the sound so you would not hear if it was sam donaldson in the old days or chris matthews or whoever it might be. there was a discussion about what they heard. we found it to be fascinating and very different from people who then hang on. the people who say they are experts every night i turn television on and they say here is a republican expert. i have never seen that person before and i have been around. he is usually 15 years old.
it is amazing. >> let me tell you a great story about the spin afterwards. in 1988, my assignment in the general election was to be the press secretary. if you remember the debate, it produced one of the most famous moments. but it was very interesting because those who were seated in the audience, including the senator's wife, came out of it saying, oh my gosh, we lost the debate because he was so mean to dan quayle. and their impressions from having been in there and watched it on stage was that this was angry. i was sitting with all my friends in the press and they were watching this. we then went back and if you recall the sequence, john f. kennedy was a friend of mine. we then went back. john f kennedy was a friend of mine. you are no john f. kennedy. it is so amos. the camera was on dan quayle, getting his expression in the headlight. i thought it if the camera had been reversed that the outcome might be just a little differently. how the people who came out said how are we going to deal with what they thought was a bad moment. they said i think we just wanted to bathe in that moment. this is a very complicated piece. a lot of people were asking do you think senator benson was too over the top. we thought it would clarify some of the distinctions between these candidates. it was a demonstration that vice
presidential debates are important and produce moments. they do not have a lot to do at the outcome because it is more candidates at the top of the ticket. >> we did win that one if i recall. >> you did. >> that business of trying to go out and create commotion and commentary, the debate is out of hand now. there is no way to control it. you all are the ultimate arbiters. if you turn that off and turn and say let's look at what matters to us at citizens, that replaces the cacophony and tower of babel you here after the debate itself. >> we have a number of questions about the moderators themselves tummy tuck. everything for more detail about how they are select it to what i think of as a sympathy question, could you just cut off their microphones if they talk over time. it down to fact checking candidates. >> i think the commission really owes jim an apology. the american people for so long been been used to a format where the question would be posed of a candidate. he would have two minutes to respond the other candidate got one minute to respond and then there was a 32nd response and then they moved on to another subject. that has been pretty much the format for ever. we changed that. what we did is we divided the 90 minutes into six parts of 15 minutes. what we were looking for was to get more interplay, to have a debate, to have them go at each other and look at each other. a lot of the debates and never look each other. jim's job was to get them started on one of the subject matters. we announce the subject matter. they knew. they were not getting cold turkey with what is the president of tristan. they knew it was going to be on healthcare. the plan was for 15 minutes. we wanted them to go at each other. they went back and forth. a lot of people said he just let them go. he was supposed to let him go. he did exactly what we wanted him to. but schieffer did the same thing. it is extremely important. the bigger question is how we choose. this time was difficult for us. we knew we were changing the format and we were going to these 15 minute pods. it was very important that we have experienced people.
if you talk to anyone who has moderated one of these things, they are shaking going into these things because there are hundred million people watching these things. we put jim at the front and bob schieffer at the back and then we went with martha radix in the middle. we always try to get a verse 50. it is hard. you have to go a long way in any of the networks with hispanics or blacks or men and women who really are exposed enough to do this job. this is a tough job. clearly we have to find some
probably info some interesting positions. there is so much that goes into the theater of just running a live rock cast like that. you pretty much have to go to prominent broadcast journalist. they're working with that thing in their air. that is hard. that said, we need to see and elevate people that represent the diversity. the important thing is it is not about the moderator, stupid. it is about the candidate. the candidates have got to show up tummy tuck. they have to -- show up.
clearly had his honeymoon on his mind or something. >> is anniversary. i hope it wasn't his honeymoon. if it was his honeymoon he folded a lot of people. part of the responsibility goes to the candidate. are we going to flesh out some of the differences that exist? >> a related russian is the fact checking.
says something that is not consistent, it is the other candidates not the moderator to impose. then it appears as if they are being partisan to one of the candidates. >> i mildly disagreed. we are allowed to mildly disagree. i think candy was trying to move the program on. i think some people thought she
unfairly interjected herself when she cooperated something that president obama was saying. her view was that she had to move into the next subject and she wanted to close off what she thought had become stagnant. it is a great example of we want moderators to get the candidates to engage. we do not want the moderators to be the subject of the debate after the debates. that is our goal.
the networks made a fortune. you have the absurdity of having a debate on a saturday night in new hampshire followed by a one the next morning and new hampshire. hard to have a debate. you are lucky if everyone gets to speak for three minutes. the networks made a fortune. you have the absurdity of having a debate on a saturday night in new hampshire followed by a one the next morning and new hampshire. -- in new hampshire. >> what the chairman said when he declared the debate atrocious >> there are also other noxious by the way. >> you can see the dilemma that we have. these are presidential debates. there is an expert nation that comes with that that elevates it beyond some of the more theater of the absurd that we saw on some of the primary debates. sometimes the primary debates were very entertaining. their purpose was to help republicans decide who they want to nominate. they may have helped clarify
some things here and there. we moved to the general election, our commission only has responsibility for the general election debates. there is an elevation at that point. >> there has been quite a bit of research on how voters get information. can you talk a little bit about the significance of the debates and the actual decision-making process?
does it actually influence the final decision? >> we know from polling that by the time you get to the general election, are debates started october 3. the last one was october 22. the number of undecided voters is smaller. they have been exposed to a long going of time the primary phase of the campaign. because we are increasingly becoming very polarized, democrats know who they're going to vote for. the fastest-growing element has been independence.
by the time you get to the october debates there are very few that are truly undecided. there are probably quite a number of voters that are either ambivalent or are looking for something that says i think this is my decision and i am looking for information that confirms my decision or makes me think again. i think that is the role these debates play. they provide in honestly importing glimpses into the personality, care to her, and abilities of the people we are to elect. that is part of a process. running for president of the united states is not like running for governor. we want americans to be personally engaged in the personality of the president. it is like any other office. part of what these debates do is they solidify the relationship that the person we eventually elect is going to have with the american people. we do not have kings and queens. we have a president. relationship we have at the present is a different one than we have with the other elected offices. >> the polling we have shown shows that 70% of the whole say the debates are a factor. it is not the only factor but it is a factor. mind can change. not so much because the president was not at it best but because suddenly they saw the governors standing there debating the issues and appeared presidential. it is harder for a challenger to take on the incumbent. he knew the issues. it can change the use. it changed to imagine clay. he has two more debates where he can recover. when we were running ronald reagan for president we assumed that 40% of the people were automatically going to vote for the republican candidate. there were only 20% of the american people. we do not have kings and queens. voters and play and about 25
states. that is where we concentrated. the numbers have changed. now more people are independent them belong to either party. there is a changing dynamic out there. it is very important, particularly with independent voters. >> we have a number of people that would like to hear personal stories. whether you quietly scored the debates yourself or whether you have times when you thought the candidate's were particularly themselves or said something message to they might be. >> this is really interesting stuff. the first set of debates we did was michael dukakis and george herbert walker bush. he is about 6'3". michael dukakis is about 5'10". every debate was behind a podium. the argument from the dukakis campaign was that if the podiums were the same size there would be governor dukakis looking over. we had to build the pitcher's mound under, behind his podium so when he came out he stepped on the mound and therefore he appeared to be the same size. if you've ever been at one of these debates, it is very cold. it is about 65 degrees because you have the cameras and lights and so forth. i'm not going to mention who it was, but we have one candidate who is a sweater. he sweated all the time. he wanted to reduce the temperature to 58 degrees in the hall. we so we are not going there. we had another candidate who was getting balled back here. we have 7 camera. he wanted to make sure we would not shoot him from behind. there are a million of these. i will tell you one more. we are running out of time. in 1992 we had three candidates. it is the only time because ross perot was involved. historically we do these on college campuses. normally they do a draw in one and up. we do them in the gymnasium and one ends up in the men's locker room. that is where they go before the debate. the other goes in the woman's. in 1992 we were at washington university in st. louis. what were we going to do? there were three candidates. we had to drill a hole in the floor of the basketball arena and build a set there. you had to have restrooms and so forth. in came governor clinton with this guy with briefing books. in came president bush. he went into his holding room. we waited and waited and waited and ross perot did not come. so about 15 minutes before we went on air, i hear ross perot. "frank, what is this rule that says i can use charts and graphs?" he was joking.
he never went in the holding room. paul kirk and i went in and use the facilities. there we had to rebuild the floor. these are just little touches. one last one that hurts me. the first town hall meeting was in richmond. at that town on meeting i was seated in the chair of something like this. paul kirk was in the middle. there is a women by the name of pamela who is on our commission. she had a delightful voice. we had in front of us a screen that showed what every television station was showing. president bush looked at his watch every single screen showed it. pamela leaned over to me and said it is over. it turned out she was right. >> is a longtime campaign operatives i always would watch the debates in the holding room with other campaigns that we could keep score. one of the consequences of being an elder statesman as i have to sit with this guy now in the audience. in the first debate we just had in denver, frank and i go out at the beginning to tell people to
turn off their cell phones. and always thank them. c-span airs that portion of it. it is fun to do. i am standing up there and looking down at the seat i'm supposed to sit in. i will not mention her name. she is a democratic congresswoman from denver. she plopped herself in my seat. where am i supposed to go sit now? >> i said you are on your own. >> i walked up in the back and set with the network guys. that was more fun to do anyhow. you can watch the way it looks on television. for someone like me it is less what is going on in the hall and more what is going on for the 80 million americans who are watching this on television. there are a lots of moments that happened backstage. one of them, which i've seen happen a lot, it is one of the
rare occasions that the two campaign staffs who are in mortal combat during this campaign season come together. it is always a refreshing opportunity. they get to meet their counterparts. there is a little bit of fraternizing. it is an opportunity for you to see be other team in action. i wish there was more. i wish we created more opportunities for them to have conversation. the only other time they see each other as when they are squawking on television and yelling at each other. in the goal of creating more civil dialogue, we can create more opportunities for them to get to know each other a little bit at these occasions. >> one of the questions that is very relevant to the history of the debates is whether the dialogue has changed. we worry a lot about civil dialogue today. the lincoln douglas debates were famous for their links. do you think the last 24 years has seen a change in the dialogue or has be political dialogue beyond the debates changed? >> i think the change in format has changed the dialogue. one of the reasons we got rid of the panel of reporters was that reporter number one has taught long and hard about the question that he or she is going to ask to show how brave they are to the american people and their constituents in the press corps. under the old rules, he or she would ask the question and they would have the two minutes, one minute, 30 seconds. maybe they're needed to be a follow-up on that question. reporter number two has been a lot of time on his or her question and does not want to waste be moment in the sun to follow because they have their own question. you did not get the follow-ups when you should.
that is why we decided to change the format. i love this pot at 15 minutes on a subject where the moderator has the ability to let them go at each other. to step forward, one back. i like the model we have now. we take a lot of ideas. do not hesitate to contact the commission. go online to the website. be kind. we will be happy to hear from you.